“No Fire Zone” is a feature length film about the final awful months of the 26-year-long Sri Lankan civil war told by the people who lived through it. It is a meticulous expose of some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity of recent times.
This footage documents the day-to-day horror of this war in a way almost never done before: footage recorded by both the victims and perpetrators on mobile phones and small cameras–powerful actuality from the battlefield, from inside the crudely dug civilian bunkers and over-crowded makeshift hospitals, footage which is nothing less than direct evidence of war crimes, summary execution, torture and sexual violence.
This was supposed to be a war conducted in secret. The government excluded the international press, forced the UN to leave the war zone, and ruthlessly silenced the Sri Lankan media. Dozens of media workers were killed, exiled or disappeared. While the world looked away in the first few months of 2009, an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 civilians were massacred, mostly as a result of shelling by Sri Lankan government.
The film starts in September 2008. An air of deep foreboding hung over Kilinochchi, the de facto capital of the Tamil homelands of northern Sri Lanka. The armed forces of the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka were on the move, and the secessionist army of the Tamil Tigers was in retreat. After a 26-year revolt, the scene was set for the endgame.
Filmmakers Callum Macrae and Zoe Sale have looked at and translated hours of raw footage that captures the day-to-day life of the people who lived and in many cases died during the 138 days of hell which form the central narrative of our film. This footage is an intimate account of human suffering.
But the film is also built around compelling personal stories. There is Vany, a young British Tamil who was visiting relatives in Sri Lanka and became trapped along with hundreds of thousands of other men, women and children, desperately fleeing the government onslaught. She had trained as a medical technician in the UK; now she found herself helping in a makeshift hospital while doctors tried to treat hundreds of desperately injured people, in some cases performing major surgery without general anesthetic.
Other people who tell their stories include two of the last UN workers–Peter Mackay and Benjamin Dix–forced to leave on the orders of the UN which, they feel, was betraying its fundamental duty to protect.
Inevitably too, this film is the personal story of some who didn’t make it.
“No Fire Zone” also brings the story up to date. The Sri Lankan government still denies this all happened in what they described as a “humanitarian rescue.” The repression and ethnic restructuring of the Tamil homelands in the north of Sri Lanka continues; journalists and government critics are still disappearing. The government will tolerate no opposition and have even turned on their own judiciary, impeaching the Chief Justice of the country when she found they had acted unconstitutionally.
"Without truth there can be no justice in Sri Lanka. And without justice there can be no peace," says Macrae. "We hope our film can be part of that truth-telling."
Visit nofirezone.org to learn more.